Friday, June 30, 2006

Quote: Flannery O'Connor

“The great novels we get in the future are not going to be those that the public thinks it wants, or those that critics demand. They are going to be the kind of novels that interest the novelist. And the novels that interest the novelist are those that have not already been written. They are those that put the greatest demands on him, that require him to operate at the maximum of his intelligence and his talents, and to be true to the particularities of his own vocation.”
–Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Two More Chapters

Right after I wrote yesterday's post, the logjam broke.

Our house is constructed so you can walk a circle through its main rooms -- kitchen, a bedroom, hall, living room, dining room, kitchen again. Since it's too hot to go outside these days and also because the neighbors look at me weird if I walk circles around the backyard, sometimes I walk circles through my house. I got the idea from Horatio Hornblower, who paced his quarterdeck for an hour to get some exercise while at sea and think. His creator, C.S. Forester, also paced in his office when he needed to think.

I prefer circles, because the about face part of pacing interrupts my train of thought. I set the timer for ten or twenty mintues and walk and think. I read somewhere where the cross movements of arms and legs stimulates the creative parts of the brain. All I know is, it often works to stimulate new thoughts.

So I walked and asked myself questions, and forced myself to answer them... and suddenly some more details came. I went back to the end of ch 35 and realized that that "intense, really cool, been-looking-forward-to-it for months" bit was just too cool to be allowed to be clunky or off-key. I was demanding that it sing and zing and whatever else in first draft form and forgot all about "really bad draft." So, I decided to take it as it is -- in all its grunting, stuttering, hiccoughing glory -- and move on.

Which means chapter 35 is done and I'm on to Chapter 36.

By the way, BJ Hoff wrote an interesting blog post on Conferences, Critique Groups and Marketing here -- part of a series on detours we can take as writers that end up distracting us from our main work of writing our novels. The whole series is good, but it's probably no surprise to you that I especially appreciated -- and related to -- a lot of what she had to say in this one.

Pressing on,

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Enough time

{Image of digital clock here which Blogger won't upload}

At this time, as the days are running out and the chapter progress has once more slowed to a maddening creep, I have to remind myself that God knew exactly how long it would take me to write this book, and He set the deadline accordingly. Furthermore, I must recall that He has given me exactly enough time. Not extra time. Not less time. Exactly enough time. Down to the minute.

I don't like that, as I think I've mentioned before. I especially don't like it now, when I still can't see clearly how everything is going to work and ... of all things!... have to keep doing this walk by faith thing. It would be nice to do a little sight-walking now and then, I think. Or maybe not. Since faith is much more pleasing to the one who put me here and gave me this calling, than sight. I just have to keep claiming and keep claiming the promise that it's all going to work out, even though I'm still not seeing it.

Even though, just when I think that's it, I've got it in the bag, it'll be a simple matter to just run through the rest of these scenes... they all fall to mush and fog. A hundred questions beset me. I can't answer any of them, though I'm thinking right about now that maybe I'll just force the answers to some and see where it takes me. It can't be worse than the blank screen, head, etc.
I think I mentioned chapter 35 last week. I'm still stuck on it. I did write 10 1/2 pages of it yesterday finally, after thinking about it for 3 days. I added another five or so today and now have 17 pages. It is almost done. I just have this one intense, really cool, been-looking-forward-to-it for months bit to do. A page or two. Maybe a paragraph or two. And everything has gone still and silent and blank.

But I've prayed, and I've shown up at the desk, and my attitude is good. And He hasn't yet delivered. So, I just have to wait patiently, knowing -- believing -- that He has it all in hand. No matter what it looks like.

Onward, plodding...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Article: Too Many Interruptions

Even though I'm home and do not have co-workers, I can really relate to the article from the UK's Guardian cited below. If it's not the dog trying to go out, he's trying to come in. Or I have to remember to give him his pill. Or I gave him his pill, only to discover it a half hour later on the floor somewhere because somehow he secreted it away in his jowls and then shook it free when I wasn't looking (You think I'm joking. I'm not. He's a hound. They do that all the time).

I go back to work, trying to remember where I left off... But then the neighbor shows up at the door wanting to know if I have taken up art again and are those big stacks of things in the front yard easels? No, I tell her, they are shingles. The white stack under the canopy were the wrong ones, delivered two weeks ago. The grey ones in the middle of the yard are the ones they delivered on Tuesday instead of when they were supposed to come -- Wednesday -- and consequently no one was around to move the cars so they could take the ones under the canopy away and put the new ones in their place. Thus they left them in the yard. Which means, since shingles can't be in the sun, that they have to be shielded by a makeshift structure of old window screens, sheets and boards made by moi. Except when the afternoon storms come, in which case the structure must be taken down and the stack wrapped in a tarp and tied with rope. And oh... now it's time for another pill...

On the other hand, I also have to admit that I, too, am guilty of interrupting myself at LEAST 50% of the time...

Leave me alone . . .
The average worker spends two hours a day answering phonecalls, emails and pointless questions about who ate the last Hobnob. We asked Tim Dowling to write about it - then kept interrupting him... LINK


Monday, June 26, 2006

Well? Do you like it?

Here it is! The cover of Book Four. There will still be some minor tweaking, I'm told, but this is going to be it for the most part. Like I said, I'm pretty excited about it. It's got some details wrong, but I think it captures the sense of things quite well... So what do you all think about it?


Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Right Goal

Gal 1:10 For am I now seeking the favor of men or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.

There are times in the writing of a large project, especially when on a deadline, that you just don't want to work. You are tired. Your emotions are flat. And that, I think is a good thing, because it enables you to examine your goals. I was thinking about goals the other day, because I'd read something that said they should be realistic and attainable and something under your control.

By that definition a good goal for a writer can't be "to be published" because you really don't have any control over that. It could be to write a book or even a publishable book, though the latter is getting fuzzy because who decides what is publishable except the editor who buys it? And again, the writer has no control over that.

Likewise, the goal "that people will like my book" is no good, because the writer has no control over that, either. It can't even be that God will like my work, because He's the one, I believe, who's supposed to be doing it. Of course He will like it. He made me to be the kind of person I am who likes the kind of stuff I do, and He gave me the ability and desire to write and "filled my well" with much of what is in it, and He's set up so many other parameters that govern what the work will be that there would be no work at all apart from Him. So His liking it just seems beside the point. At least when it comes to a specific, attainable, verifiable goal.

By those criterion, a good goal can't even be that I will like the work, because my feelings are totally unreliable. Especially if I'm tired or have been working many days or months, in which case it's likely I'll not feel too good about it. So if my goal is to feel good about the quality of what I've done when the day comes to an end, most days I will not meet that goal. And the goal, to be good has to be attainable and realistic.

So what is a good goal then? How about "to live one day at a time, to do the task that has been assigned with the right mental attitude and the right motivation, and enjoy the process?"

The right mental attitude: Not freaking out because I'm behind schedule or because of the frustration of not knowing where I'm going, or of holding two contradictory thoughts in my mind at once; not worried about what people are going to think, but confident that the Lord is leading me to make the work what He wants it to be (and that mostly in spite of me); at rest and fully persuaded that He is able to accomplish that which He has purposed...

The right motivation: recalling every day that it is an honor and a privilege to worship God, to learn His word and to be able to write books that illustrate and celebrate who He is. Books that will touch people throughout the country and even the world. It is a tremendous privilege that should never be taken for granted, and certainly not sullied by constant fretting over whether it's going to be done properly, or worse, liked by people or not.

Yeah, I think that might work...

Have a great weekend

Friday, June 23, 2006

This and That

Thursday Bethany House sent me the cover for Return of the Guardian-King and... I LOVE it! I think it's the best one yet. And I'm going to show it to you all probably on Monday, so be sure and check back. It feels like the Lord's special present to me because more than any of the others I think it captures something of Abramm's strength and regality. It's also very inspiring!

Anyway, I finished ch 34 Thursday and am working on 35 today. I had hoped that I would finish 35, but ended up having to think about a lot more than just what happens in this chapter. Yes, I know the general shape of the end, but that's not the same as knowing what everything looks like, where everyone is, who is there, what the precise plans are, etc.

And lastly, Dean Koontz has begun doing a weekly podcast, which will change every Monday. This last Monday's is a hoot. He talks about dealing with editors, and I can confirm his comments about how we mostly don't have basements out here in the southwest... I have only known one family that has a house with a basement, and they are from Oregon and built their own house. My aunt and uncle in LA have a sort of basement, but since their house is built on the side of the hill, I'm not sure it can be considered a "real" basement. Anyway, click here to listen to Episode 1 of the podcast: On Working with Editors.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Blog Tour: Sharon Hinck

Sharon Hinck has been a friend and a faithful supporter of my work, and me, for several years now. She is an excellent writer herself, possessing a wonderful way with words, a great sense of humor and the ability to create living, breathing, very likable characters who immediately upon meeting them seem like old friends. I was introduced to her work through her fantasy novel, The Restorer, which tells the story of a soccer mom wrenched unexpectedly into an alternate world which she is called upon to deliver. It's a parallel to the story of Deborah, the first in a series of three, and I loved it -- even wrote an endorsement for it, something I rarely do.

We have been waiting now for the Lord to open the doors at just the right time and place for it -- and as it turns out, just yesterday she shared with me the news that those doors have opened. Nav Press has bought all three of the Restorer books, and plans to release them approximately 4 months apart starting June of 07. Hooray!

But that's not our subject today....

Because while Sharon waited for the doors to open for her fantasies, she took a divergent tack, focusing on the more marketable mom aspect of her writing interests to pen The Secret Life of Becky Miller. (No, it is not an expose of the Becky Miller who occasionally comments here and has her own blog, A Christian Worldview of Fiction! LOL)

The new book, which Bethany House is releasing this month, is classified as “mom-lit” though it does incorporate a few fantasy elements in the form of Becky's rich -- the back cover calls them "grandiose" -- adventure-filled daydreams. Sharon’s Becky is a young mother who yearns to do great things for God as she deals with toddlers, laundry, noodle boil-overs, and other domestic crises, only to realize that these days of small things and small choices can be just as important in God's sight as the big ones.

For more about the book visit The Secret Life of Becky Miller, and be sure to check out the different interviews of Sharon (some are very clever departures from the norm!), book reviews and book giveaways on her June blog tour which is kicking off the release of her debut novel.

The Secret Life of Becky Miller is already receiving rave reviews from readers:

"I started reading your book and couldn't put it down. You describe feelings I didn't know how to put into words."

"...the insight (Hinck) brings to Becky's spiritual journey brought tears to my eyes and left me gasping for air. Warning: Do not read this book late at night next to a sleeping husband. You won't be able to put it down and your laughter will awaken him."

"In the style of James Thurber's Walter Mitty, Sharon Hinck delivers an exceptional read that will touch your heart and your funny bone. By the end of the book, you'll feel like Becky Miller is your best friend." —Tim Bete

If you're a young mom who struggles to do it all perfectly, you'll certainly relate to Becky Miller, and even if you're not, the book's a fun, enlightening and well-crafted read.


P.S. Sharon is running a contest for a free book on her website. Her agent came up with some whacky title ideas for future Becky Miller books which she's posted on her “Just for Fun” page. After you read them, send her your own funny ideas. She’ll compile the best ones to post on her site AND draw from the entries. The winner will receive a free autographed copy of THE SECRET LIFE OF BECKY MILLER.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Baby Bear

My mind has been much on my dog of late, so I thought I'd do a bit of a retrospective. Bear is our sixth dog and our fourth hound, but our first Redbone Coonhound (papered, in fact). Of them all, he's been the best, though the rest all had their good and endearing qualities as well (except for our schizophrenic German Shorthaired Pointer -- he was the dog from hell.)

Redbones, though, are smaller than the other hounds, and their coats are lighter, the hairs shorter so their shedding isn't so noticeable. The color is incredible. Taking him for a walk in the sun is always a treat because he shines like deep copper with gold burnishes... It always blows me away with how gorgeous it is.

The picture above is him at 8 weeks. You can't see his long tail because it's wagging too fast. My husband picked him out of the litter because he was the most alert, the first one to notice the new arrival and sound the alert. What I love most about hound puppies is their long ears. Their big feet are pretty cute, too.

The day we got him was just after I had received my home schooling books for that year and the box was still on the living room floor. After a long ride from Phoenix he bounded into the house to make friends, ran wildly about sniffing things, then climbed into the open box lying on the floor as if it was the most normal bed in the world and promptly fell asleep.

Since he wasn't moving, I took the opportunity to sketch him. Which is the second picture here. "Bear in the Box."

Finished ch 33 yesterday. On to 34.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Door Flies Open

Wow! I'm in shock. I did 22 1/2 pages yesterday. Finished chapter 30 and 31 and made progress in 33 and 34 (32 is already done.) But more than that the door opened on the end of the book and I know what is going to happen all the way through and when I saw it it astonished me. This book has not at all been what I thought it would be. And now that I am here, now that I am seeing... all the things that are woven together, I'm just floored. I walked around giggling and exclaiming for about half an hour , alarming the dog with my bizarre behavior, as more and more things fell into place and I saw how Right it all was. How what I had originally thought it was going to be was not right at all, though I don't think I could ever have started out with the concepts because I hadn't yet learned them.

Let me just say one thing... Chesedh is the Hebrew word for mercy, lovingkindness, favor... grace. I had thought originally the story would climax in Kiriath, but it just kept coming back to Chesedh and now that the door has flown open I see it. Of course it has to resolve in ... grace. That's were all victories are won. But I had no idea, no conscious thought of doing this. If anything I kept fighting it.

These are the exciting days. And for all the enjoyment, I remain aware that things may change today or tomorrow. New questions arise, new difficulties, new inconsistencies I've not yet thought of. But that's good, too, because it's the only way the work gets better, deeper, more convincing.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Crunch Time

Didn't make nearly as much progress as I'd hoped this weekend, but I still haven't decided whether to talk to my editor or not. I'm back on Ch 30, but working on the second scene now, hoping to get that thread done through ch 34. I'm having trouble with the sequence -- logic, timing and dramatic impact all have to work together. So far I'm just floundering. But that's not surprising. Here's a quote I recall to mind frequently, from that same book, Overcoming Writing Blocks:

"It is important to realize that before any problem is solved there is very often a period of frustration -- a time when it seems you are getting absolutely nowhere, that you are further from a solution than ever and that all is hopeless. The harder you think, the more hopeless it becomes. The feeling is natural."

I think it's a quote of a quote, and it is a very common experience for me.

Anyway, crunch time is here. I have three weeks and more or less ten chapters. That's about three a week, which is something that lies just at the outer edge of possibility of my being able to do it. If only the distractions and intrusions and problems will stop. (Ha! Fat chance of that.) Okay, if only I can be firm about ignoring the distractions and intrusions and problems and just keep my head down and my eyes focused on this book. (Btw, I calculated it out yesterday and ch 30 is equivalent to mile 20 of a Marathon, the mile where you hit The Wall...)

Today, though, I'm going to try just writing the chapter, even if my head is blank and I don't know where I'm going. It's going to be uncomfortable, but if I expect that, it does help...

Oh yeah, and there is another Fantasy blog tour going this week in conjunction with the release of Donita Tompkins' new dragon novel, DragonKnight. Unfortunately I doubt I'll be much involved, (see above) but the list of those who are is at A Christian Worldview of Fiction.

I will be posting a blurb later in the week in conjunction with my friend Sharon Hinck's debut novel Blog Tour... but that's already written.

Okay, to work

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Gospel According to Superman

This is from Infuze Magazine, a free ezine I subscribe to and that I've quoted from before. I've long thought of Superman as a metaphor for Jesus (one reason why I've watched every Superman movie/TV show that comes along -- Smallville has been my favorite show for years, and before it, Lois and Clark). Thus it didn't surprise me to learn that it was two Jewish guys who actually came up with him and even had the Messiah analogy in mind when they did.

Now there's new book out that explores this very thing -- Steve Skelton's The Gospel According to the World's Greatest Superhero. I might have to get it...

Here's the Infuze article, followed by selected online comments: Article

The article itself has links to other articles that deal in greater depth with the book and the background of Skelton and Superman.

Happy Saturday!

Friday, June 16, 2006

When the Time is Short

What to do when the time is short? Carry on. You know you have the Lord, who'll come through for you. Don't think of all you have to do, just do the next thing. He'll help you and if the time is short and running out, will you trust Him to see you through it ?

Don't try to plan too much, just keep your focus, love your life, and carry on.

Oh, yeah... and Stay Out of the Future!


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Books in Thailand

Recently I heard from a reader/friend who has been teaching English in Communist China for several years now -- she's Christian and through the means of the relationships she develops with her students and colleagues, she has been able to share the Gospel as opportunities arise. She showed her students a DVD of the Chronicles of Narnia and was thrilled with the conversations and student writings that grew out of that.

Recently I got a note from her on a notecard (see picture) she got in Thailand on a conference. When writing to people outside of the country they are given very strict guidelines to follow and so can't always state things as clearly as they might otherwise, but here's part of what she said:

"I also wanted to tell you that you have helped many others in the same profession as I that you probably don't know about. How your books ended up in random book stalls in northern Thailand, I'll never know, but they were for sale there -- and I can't tell you how many of my friends told me I should read them (I told them I already had :-) ) One poor bookseller sold completely out of them!"

My books are being sold in northern Thailand. Wow. That absolutely floored me. So many times God has done that, just opened the blinds a little bit on things He has done that I've known nothing about and would never even have imagined. This is one of those times. It reinforces the edict: NO MORE WHINING!

To work!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Decision Making Fatigue

We had a great message last night in the teen class! Exactly what I needed. Among other things, the pastor pointed out the fact that without the filling of the Holy Spirit and God's truth circulating in your soul you will lack the spiritutual energy to handle the daily pressures that come into your life. One of the keys to life is knowing who's in charge: Is your soul controlling your body/emotions, or is your body/your emotions controlling your soul? And just as important, is the Holy Spirit controlling your soul as it controls your body?

One of the ways the kingdom of darkness can get to us is through the mental fatigue that comes from having to make a lot of decisions. School teachers have to make a lot of decisions in a day. Air traffic controllers are said to have the most decision-intensive job, though I'm not so sure mom's with lots of kids at home might not give them a run for their money!

More to the point of this blog, though, I would also say that writing a first draft involves making a lot of decisions. (should my hero go here or there? What are the names of the towns "here" or "there"? Are they walking or riding? How did they get enough horses for everyone to ride? How many men are there, anyway? And if everyone's not riding, how does that work? How can they avoid notice if half of them are riding? And on and on. )

In the process of making lots of decisions, some of them are going to get to you. You're going to be uncertain. Or get frustrated or there'll be something that's going to get you anxious and disturbed. It may be subtle, but it will happen. And once you let those mental or emotional sins dwell in your soul, you're out of fellowship. So you have to be alert to the possibility of that, and confess them regularly if needed.

After class I Googled decision-making fatigue and discovered a Stanford study showing that decision-making actually depletes the same "psychological resources" that are used to regulate self. When you have to make a lot of decisions, you become less able (humanly) to "persist at a task despite a strong desire to quit" and less able "to override impulses." So if after your stint at some hard writing, there are all these fun distractions around like video games or magazines -- or email or blogs -- then, you are probably going to have trouble resisting them. Especially given the choice of doing that or working on some editing where you have to make more decisions. (Perhaps that's why I've had good success with getting started editing a piece when I tell myself I don't have to do anything but read the scene and make any changes or notes that occur to me. If none occur... oh, well. Then I don't have to do anything.)

It also reinforces the importance of having some sort of routine and habit so you can cut down on the numbers of decisions you have to make about regular, mundane things. And the added importance of coming to a decision quickly, not endlessly vacillating between options. Thus, in the interest of saving my decision-making, self-regulatory energies for the book, I shall not spend a lot of time trying to decide if this post is worth posting and just post it!

Thanks so much for all the prayers and feedback. I appreciate it. Yesterday I wrote 10 pages into ch 31, and am heading off to finish that up today.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Last Quarter Blues

Well, this is when the pressure really begins. When your schedule calls for you to finish a chapter every 2 1/2 days and right off the bat you get off track. You start to get back on track, only to find two chapters later that you have to stop and do some extensive thinking about the end of the book: the world, the situation, all the characters (and I have mulitple lines, mulitple places and situations) what exactly is going to happen, and once that is figured out, how best to present it. Not everything that happens, has to be dramatized, even the somewhat dramatic events. Plus I have way more events than I have chapters to put them all in.

So I was supposed to finish ch 30 last Thursday, 31 on Saturday, and 32 today. Instead, I thought about chapter 30 until yesterday when I wrote the first part. Then I decided I wanted to keep going with that particular thread and now I am poised to do 31. Obviously way off schedule. Should I email my editor and tell her I'm probably not going to make that July 5 deadline? I haven't decided yet. The Lord hasn't really made it clear to me that I won't.

I've had a lot of trouble staying focused, too. I don't know whether it's all the distractions (just the dog with all his pills having to be timed throughout the day has been a distraction) or whether I'm tired or it's just a part of the process. But I don't seem to be able to just work, work, work and more than that, I'm not getting terribly freaked about it. In the past I would have, and, I suppose, used that emotional energy to motivate myself. Which is really not what I should be doing. Instead I've done a lot of staring out the window and a lot of resting in the Lord. But now the time is getting short and the doubts grow stronger...

And then there is the Last Quarter Blues. I checked my old writing journals, and in every one of them, when I hit this stage of a book, I am describing the same state. The book just doesn't seem to be very good to me any more. I know I can't tell, because I'm way too close to it, but when I get to this point, I always have to keep going on faith alone. This is where, for me anyway, it begins to get more and more difficult to keep that faith. The idea that I've written 30 chapters of drivel, that I have far too much material waiting to be inserted into what I've done, let alone what I have left to do with the end -- all that combined with lack of time and the need to stay within a certain word count starts me wondering if I've just been a crackpot, a fanatic, trusting that God would come through, when what I really needed to do was Just Have More DISCIPLINE! Anyone who's been reading this blog for very long will know that this is a familiar theme. But at this point everything seems to ramp up, as it looks less and less likely I'll finish on time, and less and less likely that any of it will work.

But as I said, the walk becomes strictly by faith at this point. I know the Lord has called me to do this, and I know that He's been guiding me, because I've asked Him to and whatever you ask in accordance with his will He will do. I know it's in accordance with His will because His word says it is: "Faithful is He who has called you and He will also bring it to pass." "For the Lord God helps me... and I know that I shall not be ashamed."

Unfortuntately sight is saying very different things at this point.

Well, Bear wants to eat, and has been hounding me about it for awhile now, so I guess I'll go feed him... wonder what he'll want to eat this morning? An egg, maybe?

Praying I'll finish ch 31 today,

Monday, June 12, 2006

Inducing the Artistic Coma

More quotes from Becoming a Writer on how to induce the artistic coma:

"One very well-known writer of my acquaintance sits for two hours a day on a park bench. He says that for years he used to lie on the grass of his back garden and stare at the sky, but some member of the family, seeing him so conveniently alone and aimless, always seized on the occasion to come out and sit beside him for a nice talk. Sooner or later he himself would begin to talk about the work he had in mind and then the desire to write it would abate. Now, with a purposeful air and in mysterious silence, he disappears daily, and can be found every afternoon (but fortunately seldom is) with his hands in his pockets staring at the pigeons in the park.

"Another writer, almost tone-deaf, says that she can finish any story she starts if she can find a hall where a long symphony is being played. The lights, the music, her immobility, bring on a sort of artistic coma, and she emerges in a sleepwalking state which lasts till she reaches the typewriter.

"A woman confessed that whenever she came to a difficult spot in a novel she was writing, she got up and played endless games of solitaire. Another woman novelist found...that she spun stories as fast as she knitted and turned herslf into a Penelope of the knitting needle, raveling a square of scarlet wool and starting on it again whenever she had a story "simmering." Fishing served a writer of detective stories, and another admits that he whittles aimlessly for hours. Still another said that she embroidered initials on everythhing she could lay her hands on... "


Photo illustration by LunaSol

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Reflections on the Coma -- 2

One of the problems with accepting the idleness that Dorothea Brande claims is so essential to creativity is that "long periods of rambling leisure" do not jibe very well with our achievement-oriented society. Nor even with some elements of Christianity. As Christians, we're not to be slothful, after all. We don't want to be that door turning on its hinges in the bed! Or that lazy, wimpy person who won't leave his house because "a lion may be in the street!" We need to be up early seeing to the ways of our households, doing heartily whatever our hands find to do... not sitting around staring out the window.

And yet...being busy and industrious can as easily be a product of the flesh as of the Spirit. I didn't believe in Jesus until I was 21 and for all the years before that I was an achiever. I worked hard, I was conscientious, I was responsible, I did the work. I was driven to do the work. Good performance was essential to how I saw myself as a person. Bad performance meant I was bad. A failure. No good. When I got saved, those viewpoints and motivations did not go away. In fact, I believe that achiever stuff is part of my personality to this day, part of the strengths of my flesh. My flesh feels good when I achieve and perform well. It still wants me to do that. But maybe God doesn't so much.

Because we are also told, "It is vain for you to rise up early and sit up late to eat the bread of painful labors. For the Lord gives to His beloved even in his sleep." Sometimes we are told to stand still, sit down, shut up and watch the Lord fight for us. To be still, and know that He is God, that He is good to those who wait for Him. The achiever part of me is not wild about waiting.

Nevertheless the Christian life, I believe, is about experiencing and receiving grace. Over and over God tells us what He has done for us -- everything -- and how much more He wants to do for us. Yet, too often I think we get caught up in doing things for Him, when that's not what He wants at all.

For one thing, He doesn't need us to do anything. He is perfectly and totally self-sufficient. He doesn't need us, He doesn't need the angels, He has always been totally and completely and perfectly happy. He remains happy, with us or without us. His plan will go on whether we conform to it or not.

He doesn't want us to do for Him, He wants us to know Him, and to have His mind in us, to think like He does. He wants us to believe He is who He says He is and live like we do. He wants us to allow Him to conform us so that we will be like Him and in that have the capacity to receive and enjoy all the things He wants to do for us. And some of those things include the times when He gives us the privilege of being used by Him to further His plan and purpose on Earth. But that's not the same as us doing things for Him.

My pastor puts it this way:

Achievement belongs to God; blessing belongs to the Believer...

All that to say we don't always have to be doing something, building something, seeing measurable progress. We have to be obedient, but it's a moment by moment obedience, and I think our being relaxed and patient and calm as we wait, confident that He will see done what He has called us to do, is worth a lot more to Him than our overwraught efforts to "get something worthwhile accomplished today!"

Returning now to my window...

Friday, June 09, 2006

Reflections on the Artistic Coma - 1

As I said on Wednesday, I have some thoughts about the Artistic coma that I wanted to share. Here is part of the quote from Wednesday's post:

"[The writer] will only know that there are times when he must, at all costs, have solitude; time to dream, to sit idle. Often he himself believes that his mind is empty...That strange, aloof, detached period has been called "the artisitic coma" by observers shrewd enough to see that the idleness is only a surface stillness. Something is at work, but so deeply and wordlessly that it hardly gives a sign of its activity till it is ready to externalize its vision..."

I have very definitely experienced what is being described above in my writing life. Nearly every time I start a new scene, or a new chapter I begin the "strange, aloof, detached" period. My mind is blank. If I try to make myself think about what I want to do, it slides off to other things. If I insist, I will only come up with vague notions that have nothing to do with anything. It all seems dead, lifeless, dull. I wonder why I thought this was something I should develop. I think maybe it's not really something I should develop. I start putzing around.

Suddenly I find myself checking the email. I read blogs. I walk through the dining room to let the dog out and see a magazine, which I start reading. Suddenly I get an idea for a blog post. Or another book. Or an email I want to write. I become consumed with curiosity about some bit of trivia that floats into my mind and go to the internet to find out about it, or dig through the closet to find a photograph. I start reading a novel I've already read...Then I feel guilty and try to make myself get back to work.

Only to repeat the process. Used to be, by day's end I would be quite upset with myself, consumed with guilt -- I have no discipline! I should try harder! I have wasted the whole day! If I am not going to write, I should at least do some chores.

The only thing is, when I'm actually in the day, at the time when I could go do the chores, I never think that's really what I should do. It always seems like if I'd just concentrate I could get something going with the writing.

In the last few months I've really begun to come to terms with the fact that this is not so. That what is going on with me during these times is this period of detachment Dorothea Brande describes. My brain feels empty as far as the work goes, yet I don't feel free to leave it and go off to do other things. Chores are, for the most part, not periods of idle leisure. They are purposeful and when I do one, I immediately start thinking about the next oneI have to do and the next. My mind is never free enough from the accumulating list to do's, to get around to playing with the story.

So I'm thinking now that it's about time I recognize this and stop beating myself up about it. It's not lack of self-discipline, it's lack of understanding the process and accepting it. I really am working, even if externally it looks like I'm just reading Internet Movie Database or Powerline or some article about Russell Crowe. It's okay to just sit and stare out the window at the pigeons while listening to music and let your mind wander. In fact, it's more than okay. It's a crucial part of the process and if I don't allow myself time to do it, I will do it anyway...but in a less productive vein.

Yesterday I started ch 30 and ran right into whatI described above: the material was dead and dry and empty. I had a general idea of what was to happen, but it bored me. What had seemed interesting to me a couple of days ago, now seemed completely pointless. Aha! I thought. This is the period of detachment -- not from society, as I'd assumed before, but from the work itself! The period of withdrawal and indifference! To the work itself. That's what's going on here. The very state of dryness means the nameless faculty is at work and I should rejoice.

So I took my note pad and my notes and I went to the other room (away from the computer and email and blogs) and I sat and watched the pigeons and listened to The Man from Snowy River and Dan Fogleberg and John Denver instrumentals. I did some crocheting... I let my mind wander. A lot. When I thought of other things to do that had nothing to do with the work, I just went and did them. And then came back.

And slowly things began to come, piece by piece, layer by layer. I still have no pages written. I don't even have an outline... but I have images, and I have incidents and events and characters. I have a good idea where I'm going to start and what has come before and where it's going to lead. And I also have a pretty clear picture of a progression of events that will probably be a scene in the next chapter or two. So, though I don't have any pages of prose to show for what I did yesterday, nor even any coherent outlines... but I still think a lot of work actually did get done.

Kinda like with the work that God does behind the scenes when we think He's doing nothing at all. And then one day it all breaks open and we're amazed at what is there.

Tomorrow: Reflections on the Coma -- 2


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Novel Journey Interview

Okay, I know I said I'd do some reflecting on the Artistic Coma today -- it's been one of the most important concepts of my creative process/writing life I've had to internalize -- but I just found out that Novel Journey has put up my interview today. So, if you're interested (and hopefully you are!), please head on over there and check it out. For some reason I completely forgot to mention my website, blog, etc, in the interview, which is typical... I did manage to mention my books. I think...

That reminds me of something Dale Cramer said when he was interviewed there recently:

"I really don’t do much marketing. I enjoy meeting with groups like book clubs, and I do the occasional signing, but for the most part marketing has been unproductive and discouraging for me. I’m no salesman. I have always believed word of mouth is a writer’s best marketing tool, and word of mouth advertising is a byproduct of the quality of a book. Consequently, I feel my energies are far better spent making sure I produce a book readers will recommend to their friends."

Yeah. I can totally relate to that! And speaking of producing a recommendable book... I'd better get back to work. (I'm up to chapter 30 now, and editing ch 9 -- still off schedule but getting closer.)

Tomorrow I will say more about that coma thing...


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Artistic Coma

From Dorothea Brande's 1934 classic, Becoming a Writer :

"[The writer] will only know that there are times when he must, at all costs, have solitude; time to dream, to sit idle. Often he himself believes that his mind is empty. Sometimes we hear of gifted men who are on the verge of despair because they feel they are going through a "barren" period; but suddenly the time of silence is past, and they have reached the moment when they must write.

"That strange, aloof, detached period has been called "the artisitic coma" by observers shrewd enough to see that the idleness is only a surface stillness. Something is at work, but so deeply and wordlessly that it hardly gives a sign of its activity till it is ready to externalize its vision. The necessity which the artist feels to indulge himself in solitude, in rambling leisure, in long speechless periods, is behind most of the charges of eccentricity and boorishness that are leveled at men of genius. If the period is recognized and allowed for, it need not have a disruptive effect.

"The artist will always be marked by occasional periods of detachment; the nameless faculty will always announce itself by an air of withdrawal and indifference, but it is possible to hasten the period somehwat, and to have it, to a limited extent, under one's control. To be able to induce at will the activity of that higher imagination, that intuition, that artistic level of the unconscious -- that is where the artist's magic lies, and is his only true 'secret.'"

Tomorrow: Reflections on the Artistic Coma

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Schedules and Creativity

After this last failure to follow my self-imposed schedule it's occurred to me that one of the problems with schedules is that they are logical and linear -- very left brain. I divided the number of chapters I had left into the days I have left and came up with 2 1/2 days to spend per chapter. I inserted all that into my calendar, then penciled in the coherence edits ("easy" tasks that can be done after the hard work of first drafting is completed for the day). Very simple, very straightforward.

The problem is, creativity is in large part neither simple nor straightforward. Reading about the creative process you quickly learn of the periods of blankness, the times when the work is being done behind the scenes by the non-verbal, non-linear right brain, the way the solutions spring upon you whole cloth, or else the elements fall into place step by step with no conscious or logical planning.

In fact, nothing organic grows in a rigidly logical and linear manner -- take a look at any tree! When you try to force a non-linear process onto a linear calendar, then, it's hardly surprising when it doesn't work out.

Right now I'm having to work through Trap and Carissa's thread as it proceeds through the book -- that means I'm actually doing a degree of the coherence edit on those scenes completely out of the order my schedule had imposed. But so what? The work is still being done. I may not have a nice, neat map of the journey ahead of me, with its built-in assurance that I'll not fail to finish on time... but I have the Lord. And He has assured me that, whatever happens, I will not be ashamed. I just have to believe Him. And I know without a doubt that He prefers that to all my schedules and reliance on my own ability (ha!) to keep them.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Already Off Schedule

Well, last Thursday I made up my little work schedule for the rest of the month. On Thursday everything went splendidly. I made all my goals. On Friday things fell apart.

I thought chapter 28 would write itself in a couple hours that morning. Instead I ended up having to go back through all the earlier scenes for the plot thread in that chapter, analyze them, and see what actually had happened. By noon I had done that -- and discovered that I have to rewrite ch 16 before I can tackle 28. Since I also had a coherence edit of chapter 6 to finish Friday, I switched to that, hoping to at least get one goal accomplished. Instead I worked all the rest of that day and 9 hours on Saturday on chapter 6. It's done, but the schedule's out the window. And it only lasted one day! I'm not too disappointed nor am I surprised.

106 here yesterday. That's hot. Went to church and then spent most of the afternoon outside talking. When I got home later, I was completely wiped out. Dehydrated I think. So I got nothing done, though my schedule called for passes through chapters 7 & 8. Oh well.

God knew all of this would happen and has made allowances, so I'm not going to sweat it. There's always time to do the will of God... though I often wish He'd build more buffer and run-over days into His schedules. Then again, when you 've known everything that's ever going to happen since eternity past, I don't suppose you really need buffers or run-over days.


Friday, June 02, 2006

Good Enough

"Good enough is good enough whereas perfect is always a pain in the *** and often not worth the trouble anyway." ~John Clark, Without Remorse (Tom Clancy)

As I was sitting here getting ready to do an edit of chapter 4, the internal pressure began to build and with it the fear. I stopped. I recalled the above. I thought how it’s not up to me to make it perfect or really even “good enough”. (What is good enough anyway? Coherent within the time I have to devote to it? Is that good enough?) I thought how it’s not supposed to be hard. I thought how I should pray, seek the Lord’s guidance in it, ask Him to show me whatever changes need to be made, give me whatever ideas He wants me to put in and just relax.

It’s the flesh that wants to get it perfect (so no one can have a basis to criticize; so readers will offer praise -- always a source of pleasant stimulation, but also of false motivation). It’s the flesh that tries to take control and do it. When the Lord has promised to see it done. The yoke is easy. The burden is light. Relax. All you have to do is read the chapter and make whatever notes occur to you. That’s easy.

And so I did. And yes, I finished the coherence edit of ch 4 and it is good enough.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

One Month Left

Well, it's June 1. I have one month and five days left to finish this book, and I have at least 12 chapters to go. Plus I have to go back through all the chapters I've written so far and fill in as many of the holes as I can and insert the changes I already know have to be made so the thing will be at least somewhat coherent. I'm up to chapter 3 in the coherence draft...

I think at last it might be time for a schedule... though I have my doubts as to whether it will really do any good. Though schedules do help somewhat in encouraging me to work past my comfort zone in trying to stay on track (often far past my comfort zone, actually...) there are inevitably times when I cannot get the work done in the time I've alotted and then I have to fight with the guilt and angst over that "failure." I guess I'm still feeling my way along as to what works best for me, what the Lord is asking of me, etc. But I think I am going to make one up today and see how long before I go off of it.

I finished chapter 27 last week, and have made substantial progress on chapter 29 -- finished the main scene, in fact. I'm just not sure how long it will be once all the holes are filled in and if I'll have room for a smaller scene tucked in at the end. Thus I don't know if I can call it done or not yet. I'll see what today brings.

Off to work